He's bona fide. What are you?

I spent last week in D.C. at the City Energy Project retreat, where NRDC, IMT and staff from each of the 10 CEP cities gathered to discuss how to move forward on city policies to eliminate energy waste in big buildings. (Refresher: CEP is a multiyear, multimillion dollar energy efficiency effort in the cities shown on the map below.)


It was great to hear what the cities are planning, and when you consider their plans in the context of what is happening in New York, Portland, Seattle, D.C., etc., you realize what a fundamental wave of change is happening around the country. Nearly all major American commercial real estate markets will soon begin to emphasize the importance of smart building operations and minimizing energy use. I'm convinced we are fast approaching the tipping point for big buildings, where line between "green" and "brown" will become very clear.

The total square footage of commercial built space in each of the 10 CEP cities adds up to a big number. Add the built space in New York, D.C. and others cities that are moving ahead as well and you get an even bigger number. These cities make up a huge portion of the total built space in the U.S.

After the tipping point, good building operations will be business as usual. Not doing it will stand out more than doing it.

Of course, for some of the leaders in the real estate business, smart building operations are already business as usual. Their executives can speak competently to the declining energy use in their portfolio, and increasing numbers of LEED, Energy Star or otherwise pedigreed properties.

But what about building owners and operators that cannot speak to what their building's energy use is or should be, much less the trend?

I can't help but think of Penny, from "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?"

"He's bona fide. What are you?"


Is the MillerCoors Sustainability Report a Big Deal?

A colleague read my last post on beer, “How Much Energy Does It Take to Make a Beer” and asked me to add some context to the recently released MillerCoors 2014 Sustainability Report covered by the Washington Post.  In the age of corporate greenwashing, should she be impressed? So I took a look.

In short, the answer is yes without question. Focusing only on energy, MillerCoors claims an average specific energy consumption (energy used to make a beer) of 123 mega joules per hundred liters, down from 162 in 2009. Regardless of what is being produced, when a manufacturer of the scale of MillerCoors cuts energy use per unit by 24% in five years they should be applauded. See the chart below for their progress (and on page 44 of the report).

Source: MillerCoors 2014 Sustainability Report

Source: MillerCoors 2014 Sustainability Report

For more context, the international average specific energy consumption for beer production was 207 mega joules per hundred liters in 2012. So while there are probably small differences in how these numbers are calculated, you can be sure that MillerCoors is absolutely crushing the international average.

MillerCoors is clearly excelling on energy, and really all breweries of that scale should be creating low energy beer for a couple reasons. First, the economy of scale is real in energy just like in price. Large breweries are working with more heat and more water, and therefore have bigger opportunities for reuse and recovery with better economic returns to justify the initial equipment costs.

Second, bigger breweries often use high gravity brewing. (Note: I have no idea if MillerCoors is using high gravity brewing.) High gravity beer is brewed to have more alcohol and some brewers make high gravity beer and then add water to reach the desired alcohol content. This lowers energy use per beer because a brewery can increase its output while heating and cooling a smaller amount of liquid.  This method is not generally used in smaller craft and microbreweries, because those breweries cannot get many of the flavors we associate with craft beer using the method.

The smaller the brewery, the bigger the challenge presented by benchmarking energy per unit beer. The up-front costs for energy efficiency measures may be a larger percentage of their overall budget, and the return may not be all that great. Increasingly, this is where I am focusing my attention. Small breweries will not save energy the same way as the big breweries, but they can still save energy.

Are Google and Apple the Only Hope for Home Energy Efficiency?

There has been some pretty interesting, sustained press over Google and Apple's individual overtures into the future "smart home" market. First Google bought Nest, prompting countless "oh great, now they will read my emails and watch me sleep" jokes. Then Apple announced it was developing a software platform for controlling your home called HomeKit. Most folks seem to be stressing about their iPads working with their Google homes, and others point out that a "smart home" probably means the end of privacy as we know it.

I think it might it also mean homes that are actually operable, comfortable and efficient. Perhaps the Google home or the iHome is our best shot to tackle our home energy waste problem. Yes, we have gotten much better at building efficient homes, but the better building codes driving these improvements don't apply to existing buildings, and no market based program has even come close to making a dent in the existing home market. At USGBC, the only thing we could all agreed about the existing home market as a potential LEED application was that it would be a very difficult endeavor.

So why might Google and Apple be our best bets for home efficiency? A couple reasons. First, so much of the energy consumed in the U.S. residential sector is completely wasted in unoccupied homes or rooms that just turning off has huge potential. It does not have to be smart, just slightly less stupid.

Second, because people might actually pay for it.

If people were actually motivated by "doing the right thing for our grandchildren" or "saving money every month" then we would see a whole lot more home retrofits. But we don't.

Having a cool, modern home surely seems to motivate people. Stainless steel appliances. Granite counter tops. Hardwood floors. Central air. The existence of expensive trends in home improvement with NO payback would seem to indicate that social pressures matter in this market.

Maybe Google and Apple can make energy efficiency part of the next trend.


P.S. Please, please, please Apple, ditch Siri! Bring us Hal!

"Open the garage door, Hal!"

I'm sorry Lane, I'm afraid I can't do that."

Lane Burt Awarded the 2014 Fulbright Professional Scholarship in Climate Change and Clean Energy

I am truly honored to have been selected as the 2014 winner of the Fulbright Professional Scholarship in Climate Change and Clean Energy. I will be traveling to Melbourne, Australia  early next year to spend four months at Monash University, studying the Australian national building benchmarking program full time. My hosts will be the Monash Sustainability Institute, ClimateWorks Australia, and BehaviourWorks Australia. I hope the results of my efforts will be useful to the cities across the U.S. that are moving ahead on building energy efficiency policies, like those in the City Energy Project.

I must thank my friends at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, OPower, Building Robotics, the Institute for Market Transformation, and the Natural Resources Defense Council for helping me develop and now refine my proposal.

This Fulbright grant was established by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2010 and is in the final year of its three-year program. The sun sets on this program at the same time that the funding for the more well known Fulbright programs for students and academics becomes more scarce. I hope we are not losing sight of the value of the "soft diplomacy" that Senator Fulbright sought when the program was established in 1945.

IgCC Improvements: Precendent or Procrastination?

Code hearings are a bit like baseball; long, slow, and fascinating. A baseball game may end 1-0, but there were 27 outs on each side, and whole lot more swings of the bat in a game where basically nothing happened.

With code hearings, hundreds of code change proposals are heard, argued, and decided on, sometimes without anything actually changing in the code. Sometimes provisions pass while everyone is trying to find the page. Sometimes an advocate lets off an overly personal attack in rebuttal. Sometimes no one knows what the code actually says...

A few things did happen during the IgCC hearings last week. Depending on your perspective, these will either be precedent setting changes that will inevitably find themselves into other codes that are in wider use, like the IECC or IPC, or an exercise in futility since the IgCC is not yet very widely used. I think the former, some think the latter.

So what potentially precedent setting changes were made last week? Here are a few, just from my perspective:

Demand Response. The DR provisions of the code were clarified to make them a whole lot more workable. As I said in my testimony in favor of this change, a building that cannot respond to a demand signal at 4 PM on a weekday in July is no more a "green" building than an empty building with the lights on at 1 AM.

Outcome Based Pathway. With this change, projects can elect to take an outcome-based approach to code compliance. This means the actual energy performance of the building will be tested instead of using assumptions and projections. I think it is about time that buildings are asked to set a target and meet it.

Birds? Yes birds. Bird-strike language was proposed for a building code for the first time that I can remember. While it was not approved, I expect this discussion to continue.

RECS. Like bird-strike, the use of Renewable Energy Credits by a building project was heavily discussed. I don't fully understand this issue yet from the policy perspective, but anytime regulatory worlds collide it is a big deal.

Meters, on everything. A provision to require water meters and submeters on residential and certain commercial space types was approved. Undeniably, this is a step in the right direction given the continuing scarcity of water in most places.

So how big a deal are these changes? We will see.

USGBC Study: Better Buildings, Better Hair

From my friends at USGBC:

Green Buildings Shown to Reduce Hair Loss in Men
By Chris Pyke
Posted April 1, 2014

In a long-expected finding, the US Green Building Council announced today the result of a 10-year longitudinal study of building occupants age 18-55.  A team of scientists found that occupants of LEED-certified buildings are no more likely to experience premature male pattern baldness than the occupants of conventional buildings.



Lane Burt credits a decade of working in green buildings for his fabulous hair.

I don't dare disagree! Happy April Fools!


Read More

Beer Tastes Better With Energy Recovery

A lot goes in to making beer. A lot of grain, a lot of water, a lot of yeast, and a lot of energy. And where there is energy use, there is efficiency opportunity.

Recently, I've been spending much of my time thinking about energy use in breweries, and working on the new Sierra Nevada facility in North Carolina has opened my eyes to even more opportunity. Every bit of heat that can be saved is recovered and used. I had to sacrifice a wall in my office to the diagram pictured above just to start tracing all the energy flows. Paper just wouldn't cut it.

Now when the bartender puts a pint in front of me and I take that first sip, I wonder how much heat recovery I taste. I wonder what happened to the energy that cooked the grains; was it used to "mash" the grains and activate the enzymes or heat the cleaning water? Or did it just go out the chimney?

When I grab a six pack from the cooler, I wonder how much less I might pay if the brewery saved all the heat from the cooked wort when they cooled it down to the yeast's preferred temperature. Are they spending too much on energy and having to pass the cost on to consumers like me? Could the beer be cheaper and more efficient?

I like dark, malty beer, and I like crisp, hoppy beer. And now I have acquired a taste for recovered energy in my beer. You should try it.

Read More

What's an EUI?

I've gotten this question a lot recently. Partially because of the continued drumbeat of cities releasing private-sector building energy consumption information (New York, D.C. and soon Philadelphia), but mostly because of the deliberately misleading attack on LEED buildings recently made by an anti-green front group based on the D.C. benchmarking data.

Of course there is no reason to pay any attention to the front group or their bizarre crusade to save us all from fresh air and daylight, but there are many reasons to understand what a high EUI might mean.

EUI is energy use intensity and is simply energy use per square foot of space. Most of the time you see it, it has had the impact of weather variations taken out. So lower EUI is better and more efficient than higher EUI, right?

Maybe. Depends on how you define efficiency. Sometimes buildings are very efficient and still use a lot of energy. Buildings with server rooms, trading floors, or just with lots of people can use lots of energy, but do so very efficiently. It would not be a good idea to require all buildings to have the same low EUI without accounting for this context, because that would pit space efficiency against energy efficiency in some applications.

And what if economic activity is part of your definition of efficiency? Empty buildings without much activity happening in them will probably have low EUIs, but they are a waste from an economic perspective.

SAT scores aren't perfect measures of student ability. FICO scores aren't perfect measures of financial well being. Body weight is not a perfect measure of healthiness. But all are crucial parts of showing us the big picture, just like EUI.

Kudos to D.C. and other cities for allowing us to begin to think about energy waste in buildings.

Ignore the front group. They are basically trying to convince you to drive Hummer instead of riding the bus, because the bus has a worse MPG.

Welcome! Here's Why You Will Want to Come Back.

Thanks for taking the time to visit this site! I'll be regularly writing about happenings in the energy efficiency and green building worlds on this blog. One of the best parts of this industry is just how fast things are moving, so check back, add the RSS feed to your reader, or sign up for the newsletter. 

I started Ember Strategies because of the passion I saw my colleagues putting into their "green" projects. It didn't matter if they worked for environmental organizations, think tanks, product manufacturers, real estate companies, or architecture, engineering and construction firms, each organization was dedicated to better products, better buildings, and a better world. Everyone agreed on the end goal, but those first steps were tough. I wanted to help them.

I'll be writing about projects I'm working on and general happenings in the industry. Comments will be enabled and I will answer as much as I can. If you are in this field or just tracking it, I think you will find value in this space.